David Hume (//; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, librarian and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), Hume strove to create a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge derives solely from experience. This places him with Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley, as a British Empiricist.
Hume argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be justified rationally; instead, they result from custom and mental habit. We never actually perceive that one event causes another, but only experience the "constant conjunction" of events. This problem of induction means that to draw any causal inferences from past experience it is necessary to presuppose that the future will resemble the past, a presupposition which cannot itself be grounded in prior experience.
An opponent of philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passions rather than reason govern human behaviour, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions". Hume was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on emotion or sentiment rather than abstract moral principle. He maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena, and is usually taken to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done.
Hume also denied that humans have an actual conception of the self, positing that we experience only a bundle of sensations, and that the self is nothing more than this bundle of causally-connected perceptions. Hume's compatibilist theory of free will takes causal determinism as fully compatible with human freedom. His views on philosophy of religion, including his rejection of miracles and the argument from design for God's existence, were especially controversial for their time.
Hume influenced utilitarianism, logical positivism, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and many other fields and thinkers. Immanuel Kant credited Hume as the inspiration who had awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers."He had little respect for the professors of his time, telling a friend in 1735 that "there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books". He did not graduate.
From this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of 10 years reading and writing. He soon came to the verge of a mental breakdown, first starting with a coldness—which he attributed to a "Laziness of Temper"—that lasted about nine months. Later, some scurvy spots broke out on his fingers, persuading
From this inspiration, Hume set out to spend a minimum of 10 years reading and writing. He soon came to the verge of a mental breakdown, first starting with a coldness—which he attributed to a "Laziness of Temper"—that lasted about nine months. Later, some scurvy spots broke out on his fingers, persuading Hume's physician to diagnose Hume as suffering from the "Disease of the Learned".
Hume wrote that he "went under a Course of Bitters and Anti-Hysteric Pills", taken along with a pint of claret every day. He also decided to have a more active life to better continue his learning. His health improved somewhat, but in 1731 he was afflicted with a ravenous appetite and palpitations of the heart. After eating well for a time, he went from being "tall, lean and raw-bon'd" to being "sturdy, robust [and] healthful-like." Indeed, Hume would become well known for being obese and a fondness for good port and cheese.
At 25 years of age, although having noble ancestry, Hume had no source of income and no learned profession. As was common at his time, he became a merchant's assistant, despite having to leave his native Scotland. He travelled via Bristol to La Flèche in Anjou, France. There he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the College of La Flèche.
Hume was derailed in his attempts to start a university career by protests over his alleged "atheism",atheism", also lamenting that his literary debut, A Treatise of Human Nature, "fell dead-born from the press." However, he found literary success in his lifetime as an essayist, and a career as a librarian at the University of Edinburgh. His tenure there, and the access to research materials it provided, resulted in Hume's writing the massive six-volume The History of England, which became a bestseller and the standard history of England in its day. For over 60 years, Hume was the dominant interpreter of English history.:120 He described his "love for literary fame" as his "ruling passion" and judged his two late works, the so-called "first" and "second" enquiries, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, as his greatest literary and philosophical achievements. He would ask of his contemporaries to judge him on the merits of the later texts alone, rather than on the more radical formulations of his early, youthful work, dismissing his philosophical debut as juvenilia: "A work which the Author had projected before he left College." Despite Hume's protestations, a consensus exists today that his most important arguments and philosophically distinctive doctrines are found in the original form they take in the Treatise. Though he was only 23 years old when starting this work, it is now regarded as one of the most important in the history of Western philosophy.
Hume worked for four years on his first major work, A Treatise of Human Nature, subtitled "Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects", completing it in 1738 at the age of 28. Although many scholars today consider the Treatise to be Hume's most important work and one of the most important books in Western philosophy, critics in Great Britain at the time described it as "abstract and unintelligible". As Hume had spent most of his savings during those four years, he resolved "to make a very rigid frugality supply [his] deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvements of my talents in literature".:352
Despite the disappointment, Hume later wrote: "Being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country."sanguine temper, I soon recovered from the blow and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country.":352 There, in an attempt to make his larger work better known and more intelligible, he published the An Abstract of a Book lately Published as a summary of the main doctrines of the Treatise, without revealing its authorship. Although there has been some academic speculation as to who actually wrote this pamphlet, it is generally regarded as Hume's creation.
After the publication of Essays Moral and Political in 1741—included in the later edition as Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary—Hume applied for the Chair of Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. However, the position was given to William Cleghorn after Edinburgh ministers petitioned the town council not to appoint Hume because he was seen as an atheist.
In this context, he associated with Lord Monboddo and other Scottish Enlightenment luminaries in Edinburgh. From 1746, Hume served for three years as secretary to General James St Clair, who was envoy to the courts of Turin and Vienna. At that time Hume also wrote Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, later published as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Ofte
In this context, he associated with Lord Monboddo and other Scottish Enlightenment luminaries in Edinburgh. From 1746, Hume served for three years as secretary to General James St Clair, who was envoy to the courts of Turin and Vienna. At that time Hume also wrote Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, later published as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Often called the First Enquiry, it proved little more successful than the Treatise, perhaps because of the publication of his short autobiography My Own Life, which "made friends difficult for the first Enquiry".
Hume's religious views were often suspect and, in the 1750s, it was necessary for his friends to avert a trial against him on the charge of heresy, specifically in an ecclesiastical court. However, he "would not have come and could not be forced to attend if he said he was not a member of the Established Church". Hume failed to gain the chair of philosophy at the University of Glasgow due to his religious views. By this time, he had published the Philosophical Essays, which were decidedly anti-religious. Even Adam Smith, his personal friend who had vacated the Glasgow philosophy chair, was against his appointment out of concern that public opinion would be against it.
Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1751. In the following year, the Faculty of Advocates hired him to be their Librarian, a job in which he would receive little to no pay, but which nonetheless gave him "the command of a large library".Faculty of Advocates hired him to be their Librarian, a job in which he would receive little to no pay, but which nonetheless gave him "the command of a large library".[i]:11 This resource enabled him to continue historical research for The History of England. Hume's volume of Political Discourses, written in 1749 and published by Kincaid & Donaldson in 1752, was the only work he considered successful on first publication.:10
Eventually, with the publication of his six-volume The History of England between 1754 and 1762, Hume achieved the fame that he coveted. The volumes traced events from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, and was a bestseller in its day. Hume was also a longtime friend of bookseller Andrew Millar, who sold Hume's History (after acquiring the rights from Scottish bookseller Gavin Hamilton), although the relationship was sometimes complicated. Letters between them illuminate both men's interest in the success of the History. In 1762 Hume moved from Jack's Land on the Canongate to James Court on the Lawnmarket. He sold the house to James Boswell in 1766.
From 1763 to 1765, Hume was invited to attend Lord Hertford in Paris, where he became secretary to the British embassy. Hume was well received in Paris, and while there he met with Isaac de Pinto.
In 1766, Hume left Paris to accompany Jean-Jacques Rousseau to England. Once there, he and Rousseau fell out, leaving Hume sufficiently worried about the damage to his reputation from the quarrel with Rousseau. So much so, that Hume would author an account of the dispute, titling it "A concise and genuine account of the dispute between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau".
In 1765, Hume served as British Chargé d'affaires, writing "despatches to the British Secretary of State". He wrote of his Paris life, "I really wish often for the plain roughness of The Poker Club of Edinburgh…to correct and qualify so much lusciousness."Jean-Jacques Rousseau to England. Once there, he and Rousseau fell out, leaving Hume sufficiently worried about the damage to his reputation from the quarrel with Rousseau. So much so, that Hume would author an account of the dispute, titling it "A concise and genuine account of the dispute between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau".
In 1765, Hume served as British Chargé d'affaires, writing "despatches to the British Secretary of State". He wrote of his Paris life, "I really wish often for the plain roughness of The Poker Club of Edinburgh…to correct and qualify so much lusciousness." In 1766, upon returning to Britain, Hume encouraged his patron Lord Hertford to invest in a number of slave plantations, acquired by George Colebrooke and others in the Windward Islands. In June 1766 Hume facilitated the purchase of the slave plantation by writing to Victor-Thérèse Charpentier, marquis d'Ennery, the French governor of Martinique, on behalf of his friend, John Stewart, a wine merchant and lent Stewart £400 earlier in the same year. Hume's views reinforced the institution of racialised slavery in the later 18th century.
In 1767, Hume was appointed Under Secretary of State for the Northern Department. Here, he wrote that he was given "all the secrets of the Kingdom". In 1769 he returned to James' Court in Edinburgh, where he would live from 1771 until his death in 1776.
Hume's nephew and namesake, David Hume of Ninewells (1757–1838), was a co-founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783. He was a Professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University and rose to be Principal Clerk of Session in the Scottish High Court and Baron of the Exchequer. He is buried with his uncle in Old Calton Cemetery.
In the last year of his life, Hume wrote an extremely brief autobiographical essay titled "My Own Life", summing up his entire life in "fewer than 5 pages", and notably contains many interesting judgments that have been of enduring interest to subsequent readers of Hume. Donald Seibert (1984), a scholar of 18th-century literature, judged it a "remarkable autobiography, even though it may lack the usual attractions of that genre. Anyone hankering for startling revelations or amusing anecdotes had better look elsewhere."
Despite condemning vanity as a dangerous passion, in his autobiography Hume confesses his belief that the "love of literary fame" had served as his "ruling passion" in life, and claims that this desire "never soured my temper,
Despite condemning vanity as a dangerous passion, in his autobiography Hume confesses his belief that the "love of literary fame" had served as his "ruling passion" in life, and claims that this desire "never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments". One such disappointment Hume discusses in this account is in the initial literary reception of the Treatise, which he claims to have overcome by means of the success of the Essays: "the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment". Hume, in his own retrospective judgment, argues that his philosophical debut's apparent failure "had proceeded more from the manner than the matter". He thus suggests that "I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early."
Hume also provides an unambiguous self-assessment of the relative value of his works: that "my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject) is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best." He also wrote of his social relations: "My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary", noting of his complex relation to religion, as well as to the state, that "though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury". He goes on to profess of his character: "My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct." Hume concludes the essay with a frank admission:
I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained.
David Hume died at the southwest corner of St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh's New Town, at what is now 21 Saint David Street.St. Andrew's Square in Edinburgh's New Town, at what is now 21 Saint David Street. A popular story, consistent with some historical evidence, suggests that the street was named after Hume.
His tomb stands, as he wished it, on the southwestern slope of Calton Hill, in the Old Calton Cemetery. Adam Smith later recounted Hume's amusing speculation that he might ask Charon, Hades' ferryman, to allow him a few more years of life in order to see "the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition". The ferryman replied, "You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years.… Get into the boat this instant."
A Treatise of Human Nature begins with the introduction: "'Tis evident, that all the sciences have a relation, more or less, to human nature.… Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of Man." The science of man, as Hume explains, is the "only solid foundation for the other sciences" and that the method for this science requires both experience and observation as the foundations of a logical argument.:7 In regards to this, philosophical historian Frederick Copleston (1999) suggests that it was Hume's aim to apply to the science of man the method of experimental philosophy (the term that was current at the time to imply Natural philosophy), and that "Hume's plan is to extend to philosophy in general the methodological limitations of Newtonian physics."
Until recently, Hume was seen as a forerunner of logical positivism, a form of anti-metaphysical empiricism. According to the logical positivists (in summary of their logical positivism, a form of anti-metaphysical empiricism. According to the logical positivists (in summary of their verification principle), unless a statement could be verified by experience, or else was true or false by definition (i.e. either tautological or contradictory), then it was meaningless. Hume, on this view, was a proto-positivist, who, in his philosophical writings, attempted to demonstrate the ways in which ordinary propositions about objects, causal relations, the self, and so on, are semantically equivalent to propositions about one's experiences.[failed verification]
Many commentators have since rejected this understanding of Humean empiricism, stressing an epistemological (rather than a semantic) reading of his project.[ii] According to this opposing view, Hume's empiricism consisted in the idea that it is our knowledge, and not our ability to conceive, that is restricted to what can be experienced. Hume thought that we can form beliefs about that which extends beyond any possible experience, through the operation of faculties such as custom and the imagination, but he was sceptical about claims to knowledge on this basis.
A central doctrine of Hume's philosophy, stated in the very first lines of the Treatise of Human Nature, is that the mind consists of perceptions, or the mental objects which are present to it, and which divide into two categories: "All the perceptions of the human mind resolve themselves into two distinct kinds, which I shall call impressions and ideas." Hume believed that it would "not be very necessary to employ many words in explaining this distinction", which commentators have generally taken to mean the distinction between feeling and thinking. Controversially, Hume, in some sense, may regard the distinction as a matter of degree, as he takes impressions to be distinguished from ideas on the basis of their force, liveliness, and vivacity—what Henry E. Allison (2008) calls the "FLV criterion." Ideas are therefore "faint" impressions. For example, experiencing the painful sensation of touching the handle of a hot pan is more forceful than simply thinking about touching a hot pan. According to Hume, impressions are meant to be the original form of all our ideas. From this, Don Garrett (2002) has coined the term copy principle, referring to Hume's doctrine that all ideas are ultimately copied from some original impression, whether it be a passion or sensation, from which they derive.
After establishing the forcefulness of impressions and ideas, these two categories are further broken down into simple and complex: "simple perceptions or impressions and ideas are such as admit of no distinction nor separation", whereas "the complex are the contrary to these, and may be distinguished into parts". When looking at an apple, a person experiences a variety of colour-sensations—what Hume notes as a complex impression. Similarly, a person experiences a variety of taste-sensations, tactile-sensations, and smell-sensations when biting into an apple, with the overall sensation—again, a complex impression. Thinking about an apple allows a person to form complex ideas, which are made of similar parts as the complex impressions they were developed from, but which are also less forceful. Hume believes that complex perceptions can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts until perceptions are reached that have no parts of their own, and these perceptions are thus referred to as simple.